College Login:


75th Anniversary Features

  League of Extraordinary Men Lead the Formation of the NJCAA

September 13, 2012

NOTE: As part of the ongoing celebration of its 75th Anniversary, the national headquarters of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) will release nine insightful articles during the 2012-13 academic year that will make up the NJCAA 75th Anniversary Feature Series. Below is the first of nine in the series, which can also be found in the September issue of NJCAA Review.

By Mark Krug, NJCAA Assistant Executive Director

College athletics in the United States at the turn of the 20th century was not only unorganized but in desperate need of reform and regulation. In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt took charge and twice met with college presidents at the White House and soon 62 colleges and universities became charter members of the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS). The IAAUS adopted its first constitution in March of 1906 and changed its name to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in 1910.

By the 1930’s the NCAA had evolved into the governing organization for collegiate athletics at major four-year institutions. Small four-year colleges and universities were soon represented by the emerging National Association for Intercollegiate Basketball, which later changed its name to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

Despite the emerging governance in the developing world of intercollegiate athletics, there was still a large void in a new arena of higher education. In the first two decades of the 20th century, nearly 75 percent (75%) of high school graduates were choosing not to further their education. According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), national and local leaders realized a more skilled workforce was key to the economic strength of the country. Post-high school institutions, called “community” or “junior” colleges, began to take root across the country along with small, private colleges. The two-year college was called upon to not only prepare students for transfer to a four-year college or university, but to also train young people in the latest occupations through vocational programs.

By 1930, the number of junior and community colleges in the United States eclipsed 400 and athletic programs were emerging on two-year college campuses. Those with athletic teams were scheduling contests with opponents from four-year institutions and/or local amateur clubs. Where competition existed between two-year colleges, it was often limited to the regional area. Out West, competition in track and field as well as other sports spurred the formation of the California Junior College Federation in 1929.

Track and field soon emerged as the top collegiate sport for two-year colleges and it was apparent to many coaches and administrators that the competition was beginning to rival four-year college programs. By 1935, the strength of two-year college track field programs in California resulted in the creation of the junior college division of competition at the prestigious West Coast Relays in Fresno.

It was at the 1937 West Coast Relays where a meeting of two-year college track and field coaches and administrators took place on the Fresno State College campus. Oliver E. Byrd, track and field coach at San Mateo Junior College (Calif.), was responsible for organizing the special gathering with the goal of finding a solution to the problem of providing national recognition for the “high quality performances at the junior college level.”

What evolved from this meeting was a committee, led by Byrd, that was to study the possibility of national organization among two-year college athletic programs and participation in the NCAA track and field championship.

“This committee approached the NCAA through President W.B. Owens and requested permission to enter the National Collegiate Championships,” said Byrd in 1969. “Mr. Owens was sympathetic to the junior college participation and laid the matter before the Executive Committee of the NCAA. It was the opinion of this body that the organization had been founded for four-year institutions and that the junior colleges should not be allowed to enter the collegiate championships at this time. The junior college committee then went ahead with plans for a separate organization.”

Byrd immediately went to work, drafting a constitution and organizing another meeting of coaches and representatives from California junior colleges at the West Coast Relays in Fresno. Byrd believed the conception of a national organization dedicated to support junior college athletics “was needed to set high standards of sportsmanship and fair play that would reflect the values of the junior college movement in general.”

After much debate, Byrd’s constitution was proposed and accepted on May 14, 1938 and a new organization to be called the “National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association” was born. The 13 charter member colleges of the NJCAA (all from California) were Bakersfield College, Chaffey College, Compton College, Fullerton Junior College, Glendale Junior College, Los Angeles City College, Pasadena Junior College, Riverside Junior College, Sacramento Junior College, San Bernardino Valley College, San Mateo Junior College, Santa Monica City College and Visalia Junior College.

Among those present at the 1938 meeting were some impressive men from the world of track and field. Highlighting the group was Hilmer G. Lodge, then associated with Mt. San Antonio College (Calif.), Herschel C. Smith of Compton College (Calif.), L.D. Weldon of Sacramento Junior College (Calif.) and Otto K. Anderson of Pasadena Junior College (Calif.).

Likely the most famous at the first NJCAA meeting in May of ’38 was Anderson of Pasadena. A member of the 1924 US Olympic team, he competed in Paris in the 100-meter dash and broad jump. However, his biggest claim to fame actually took place just a week prior to the NJCAA’s first meeting.

On May 7, 1938, Anderson obtained permission for one of his athletes to take three broad jump attempts in a row at the Southern California Junior College Track Championships in Claremont. The athlete in need of this unusual request was also a member of the Pasadena baseball team that was scheduled to play in the Southern California JC Baseball Championship the same day in nearby Glendale. That athlete was future baseball hall of famer Jackie Robinson. Jackie’s third jump that day of 25 feet, ’ 6.5 inches broke his brother Mack’s national junior college record at the time by an inch. After his three jumps, Robinson jumped into a waiting car and departed for Glendale. He changed into his baseball uniform along the way and showed up in the third-inning to help Pasadena win the conference championship. Robinson would accomplish similar feats a few years later at UCLA and famously broke professional baseball’s color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Anderson remained at Pasadena until the 1950’s and was President of the NJCAA from 1942-46.

Lodge was the first to hold the NJCAA office of secretary-treasurer from 1938-42. He is best known for founding the Mt. SAC Relays, which he conceived in the 1950’s to rival the great relay events of the East (Penn Relays) and Midwest (Drake Relays). He convinced the Mt. San Antonio Board of Trustees to build a state-of-the-art track and field facility and in the spring of 1959 the Mt. SAC Relays was introduced to the track and field world. Along with the Mt. SAC Cross Country Invitational, which Lodge also started, it is considered to be one of the most prestigious track & field events in the United States.

Smith was known in California not only for his accolades as a coach but also as a world-class sprinter during the 1920’s at the University of Southern California. During his freshman year at USC, he took first place at the Western Olympic Trials in the 100 meter dash to qualify for the US Olympic team. However, illness prevented Smith from taking part in the 1924 Paris Games. In 1927, he was a member of USC relay teams that set world records in the 800-meter and 880-yard relays. After his career was shelved he turned to coaching and served as the head track coach at Compton College (Calif.) from 1928-60.

Several Olympic superstars trained under him, including Cornelius Johnson and Charles Dumas. Johnson won the gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by setting an Olympic record in the high jump (2.03m), while Dumas was the first high jumper to clear 7 feet in 1956 and won gold that year in the Olympics.

Smith led Compton to five NJCAA national championships in track and field (1939, 47, 49, 50, 51). He also served as NJCAA President from 1940-42 and was a strong advocate for the NJCAA broadening its scope to other sports in addition to track and field.

Rivaling Anderson’s celebrity at the first NJCAA meeting was Weldon of Sacramento JC who was well known as the 1929 AAU javelin champion and two-time Big Ten Conference winner in the event while competing at the University of Iowa. He was a shoe-in for the 1928 Olympic team but officials ruled that his javelin didn’t conform to federation rules and was unable to make the team using an alternate stick.

Weldon took the helm of the Sacramento JC track and field program in the early 30’s and was instrumental in establishing the first NJCAA Track and Field Championship, which his teams would win in 1941 and ’42. He would serve as the second president of the NJCAA in 1939-40. His expertise in the decathlon helped Jack Parker of Sacramento win the bronze medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Forty years later, after relocating back to Iowa at Graceland College, he convinced a football player by the name of Bruce Jenner to try out for the track team. Under Weldon’s tutelage, Jenner qualified for the Munich Olympics in 1972 after four brief years in the sport. Jenner then set a world-record in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

As impressive of a group as Anderson, Lodge, Smith and Weldon were, it was Byrd who was the unequivocal leader of the newly founded NJCAA. He organized the first meetings of the California junior college track coaches and administrators and wrote the initial constitution that was ultimately adopted in 1938, officially creating the NJCAA. He was smart, optimistic and strong willed. Given his background one could understand why.

Born in 1906 in Arkansas, Byrd was the youngest of three children. His father died of typhoid fever before his first birthday and due to financial hardships he was placed in an orphanage for four years. By age five, he was back with his family and began working as early as six years of age selling newspapers and delivering telegrams. As an Eagle Scout, Byrd was a phenomenal athlete and scholar. He was a star in basketball and track and was awarded a scholarship to Stanford in 1925.

In Palo Alto, he majored in economics and lettered in track. Upon graduating he began teaching elementary school in Los Angeles to earn money for the pursuit of a graduate degree. His positive experience with teaching drew him to change his field of study so he returned to Stanford in 1933 and received a master’s degree in hygiene and physical education. Seven years later he earned a doctoral degree in health education.

While obtaining his master’s degree, Byrd signed on to be the head track coach at San Mateo in 1932 while also teaching biology and health. In his five years as track coach at San Mateo, his athletes set 16 junior college records. He was instrumental in developing sprinter Archie Williams who in 1936 won the NCAA title in the 400 meters, setting a world record (46.1). He went on to win gold at the ’36 Olympics in Berlin and like Jesse Owens, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler refused to greet him on the medal stand.

In 1937, while Byrd and his junior college peers were organizing to form the NJCAA, Byrd turned down an invitation from Stanford to become its first track coach. However, he did accept an offer from his alma mater to teach physical education. Thus, he served as the first President of the NJCAA despite not being a representative of a member college.

His personality and leadership in helping form the NJCAA resulted in his unanimous selection to serve as NJCAA President again in 1939-40. Two weeks after accepting the top post for a second year, Byrd informed the group that “due to the pressure of his many duties at Stanford University, he would not be able to serve the Association in the capacity of President.” He continued to attend NJCAA meetings and events for several years after leaving the Association.

Following his departure from the NJCAA, Byrd’s career at Stanford blossomed. After earning an M.D. from the University of California School of Medicine in 1947, and declining a surgical residency opportunity, he returned to Palo Alto to become a full professor. He then founded Stanford’s first health education program and served as its chair until his retirement in 1971. 

His legacy in the health and wellness community and at Stanford is that of an inspiring advocate for health promotion and disease prevention. His expertise in medical studies led him to diagnose his wife, Jennie, with thyroid cancer.

Among his significant achievements was the creation of a medical information system that disseminated updated health and disease news and studies to health professionals and the general public. Like today’s popular website WebMD, Byrd’s system translated technical language from medical books and journals to a more common language that could be easily understood and applied to the general public.

The list of awards Byrd received is quite impressive. He was honored with the American Medical Association’s Distinguished Service Award in 1966 and the International Certificate of Merit for Distinguished Service to School Health and Health Education in 1968. The California State Assembly officially commended him in 1971 for his achievements in school health and health education. In 1991 Eta Sigma Gamma, the national health science honorary society, awarded him with the National Honor Award.

Byrd’s story of success is a shining example of what the organization he helped found strives to accomplish each and every year. His determination and resilience in the face of supreme poverty and instability as a young man mirrors many modern-day NJCAA student-athletes that come into the Association facing similar hardships. Like Byrd, all they need is an opportunity and collegiate athletics offers a crucial first step forward to higher education and a professional career.

Though they might not have realized it on May 14, 1938, but the creation of the NJCAA has proven to be one of the most significant accomplishments by these very significant men. It was the vision and leadership of Byrd, as well as the passion and dedication of other key individuals like Lodge, Smith, Weldon and Anderson, that brought about the creation of the NJCAA. Thanks to their efforts, hundreds of thousands of student-athletes have been given opportunities to learn, train and succeed both on and off the track.

PHOTO CREDITS: El Camino College Compton, Beverly Loomis and NJCAA Archives.

© 2015 National Junior College Athletic Association - All Rights Reserved - About - Contact - Privacy Policy